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Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

Yanagida resigns over gaffe

Exit pressured by Kan; Sengoku to fill post as opposition digs in


By KANAKO TAKAHARA and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writers

Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida resigned Monday amid the fallout over his joking about his Diet duties, and after Prime Minister Naoto Kan effectively pressured him to step down.

News photo
On the way out: Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida bows after a news conference in Tokyo on Monday. KYODO PHOTO

Yanagida's exit, the first from Kan's second Cabinet, which was formed in September, will hobble the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration's attempts to get the opposition camp to negotiate on the supplemental budget.

The resignation came at a time when Kan's public support ratings have plunged in part from the diplomatic fallout stemming from September's run-in between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard cutters near the Senkaku Islands, and the leaking of video footage from the incident to YouTube.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, a lawyer-turned-politician, will concurrently serve as justice minister for the time being.

Yanagida announced his resignation after meeting with Kan in the morning.

"The prime minister told me to understand that the supplementary budget needs to clear the Diet as soon as possible for the public good," Yanagida quoted Kan as saying in a hastily arranged news conference after the two and Sengoku met.

"I knew that my remark was becoming an obstacle, so I told them I would resign," said Yanagida, who also will vacate the post of state minister dealing with the North Korean abduction issue.

Yanagida, who was reluctant to quit, said he decided to step down to ensure passage of the extra budget, although he still wanted to work on the panel tasked with reforming the nation's prosecutorial system and other pending issues he was in charge of.

The Liberal Democratic Party threatened to submit a nonbinding censure motion against Yanagida in the opposition-controlled Upper House and a no-confidence motion in the Lower House if he didn't resign. The top opposition force also threatened to boycott Diet deliberations if he remained.

Even so, Kan still faces a rough time in the Diet. The LDP plans to submit nonbinding censure motions against Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi in the Upper House over the video clip leak before the vote on the extra budget, which is expected on Wednesday.

Last week, the party submitted two no-confidence motions to the Lower House, which were rejected due to the DPJ-led ruling bloc's majority force.

The LDP also told board members on the Upper House Budget Committee that it will oppose Wednesday's vote on the extra budget. If the extra budget doesn't clear the Diet by Dec. 3, when the Diet is slated to close, the ruling bloc will be forced to extend the session to around Dec. 15 to ensure its passage.

Opposition parties also want to hold Kan "responsible" for appointing Yanagida.

"We need to impress upon the public that the prime minister was responsible for appointing" Yanagida, LDP Diet affairs chief Ichiro Aisawa said.

Japanese Communist Party Secretary General Tadayoshi Ichida said, "Prime Minister Kan had been defending Yanagida, and that responsibility is grave."

Top ruling bloc officials who defended Yanagida and said he should stay appeared to change their tune late Sunday after meeting at the Prime Minister's Official Residence.

Sengoku effectively said top ruling bloc officials urged Yanagida to bow out.

"I honestly feel (the resignation) is regrettable, but unavoidable," Sengoku said Monday.

The flap over Yanagida stems from remarks he made on Nov. 14 to supporters at his constituency in Hiroshima.

"Being the justice minister is easy, as I only have to remember two phrases, either of which I can use in the Diet whenever I am stuck for an answer," he said.

The two phrases, he said, are: "I refrain from making comments on a specific issue" and "We're dealing with the matter based on laws and evidence."

At Monday's news conference, Yanagida said: "I may have been too loose. It was my fault and I apologize from the bottom of my heart."

Political observers criticized Kan and the DPJ over how they handled the situation. It was reportedly his first verbal blunder.

"It will damage . . . (Kan's) government," said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University, criticizing Kan for appointing Yanagida in the first place. "The DPJ should have handled the situation quickly."

Because of the divided Diet, the administration will face an even tougher situation when the time comes to deliberate on the fiscal 2011 budget, Iwai said.

The extra budget is likely to clear the Diet even if the opposition-controlled Upper House rejects it since the DPJ-controlled Lower House's vote takes priority. But if related bills necessary to enforce the budget are rejected by the Upper House, they will have to be voted on again in the Lower House, and win by a two-thirds or more majority.

With the LDP's new momentum, Kan may be cornered into quitting as prime minister or face further Diet deadlock next March when the fiscal 2011 budget comes up for debate, Iwai noted, suggesting he may have to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

But the LDP doesn't have a clear vision on how to proceed beyond then, Iwai noted, adding: "The LDP is putting pressure on the DPJ. But it doesn't have a strategy."

Hidekazu Kawai, political science professor emeritus at Gakushuin University, agreed, saying the LDP has no concrete strategy and is merely trying to see how far it can pressure the DPJ without inviting a voter backlash.

"The LDP doesn't know how far it can pressure the DPJ," said Kawai. "It is currently trying to delay passage of the supplementary budget, but it is also observing public opinion to see how far it can go."



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